CALUMET CITY | Executives with Sears Holding Corp. met last week with Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush and other city officials to discuss the future of the site in the River Oaks Shopping Center that once was a Sears store.
James Terrell, a vice president in charge of real estate holdings, and three other Sears executives, were at City Hall on Thursday, meeting with Qualkinbush prior to the City Council meeting.
They also spoke during the meeting, trying to emphasize to city officials that they are just as concerned with finding a new use for the vacant store as the city is.
The 300,000-square-foot building and the 25 acres of land it occupies are still owned by Sears Holding, and Terrell told The Times negotiations are taking place between Sears and other business interests to get them to move into the property.
“We’re talking with people to try to get them to repurpose the property,” Terrell said, although he would not identify with whom Sears is negotiating, nor how close talks might be to reaching an agreement on future use.
The Sears store that had been a part of the River Oaks mall since it opened in 1966 was among several stores closed by the retailer due to lagging sales. The Calumet City Sears closed for good in June.
Thursday’s meeting was the first between Qualkinbush and Sears executives since then, and Terrell offered an apology for not coming to talk to municipal officials sooner about the shopping mall’s future as Sears was a major anchor store for the mall.
“We look forward to working with the community,” Terrell said. “I’m sorry we didn’t reach out (to Calumet City) prior to this.”
Third Ward Alderman Thaddeus Jones, who is also an Illinois state representative and has used his legislative post to put pressure on Sears, said the loss of the retailer, “rearranged our economy.”
“They (Sears) had been here for 46 years, and part of what they should have done (when closing) was to say ‘Thank You’ ” for the financial benefits Sears received throughout the years from having a south suburban store in the area," Jones said.
“Calumet City deserves better than what happened,” he said.
Seventh Ward Alderman Antoine Collins, whose ward includes the River Oaks mall, said he was pleased to finally get to talk to Sears executives, whom he said, “damaged our community when they abruptly left.”
But Collins said he is placing his priority on finding a replacement retailer or business interest to use the space. “We don’t want a ‘big box’ store sitting empty,” he said.
Qualkinbush said she was pleased that Sears has now come to the community.
“I would thank these representatives for coming out here,” the mayor said. “I only wish it had been sooner.”